November 20-26, 2019 Tombigbee River, Part 1

On the 20th, we finished our ride on the Tennessee River when we passed Grand Harbor, where we had previously stayed, and entered the Tombigbee River.  We were going to stay there again, but the weather was so nice, we decided to take advantage of it and go a bit farther. We entered the 24 mile Divide Cut which is a channel with rock riprap.  Riprap is an edging of rocky material placed on either side of the waterway to prevent erosion.  It was not a very wide channel and we were fortunate to not meet any large boats coming toward us.  Not so fortunate was to come across a dredging operation and we had to CAREFULLY cross over the dredging hoses and get past the barge.  Got thru OK.  Headed to Bay Springs Marina.  It’s a family owned place and everyone pitches in.  Nice place.

In the morning we called the next lock and were told if we could get there in 20 minutes, he’d put us in ahead of a tow that was coming down river.  We were almost there when the lockmaster called us and said the tow had sped up and the Captain wouldn’t wait for us to go thru.  Wish we had gotten the message while we were still in the marina, but instead we had to anchor outside of the lock and wait for an hour.  Once inside, we noticed that there were leaks in the walls, shooting out water onto the boat. If it had been worse, I don’t think I had enough fingers “to plug the dike!” We ended up following that tow thru three locks – had to wait at each of them!  On this day we went thru Whitten, Montgomery, and Rankin Locks.

By the time we had gone thru the last lock, there was quite a collection of boats and we all seemed to be headed towards MidWay Marina.  Some were Looper boats, and it was great to have the company.  We had lost many of our traveling companion boats when we took off for Chattanooga, so it was good to find some Loopers again. Time again for docktails in the boaters’ lounge and meeting new friends.  At this location we met BackAtcha, Fish Viscious, Latitude Adjustment and Club Ed.(We should have thought of that name!)

The next morning it was white outside – not snow, but fog. We stayed put and later made a trip to WalMart.  The next day was a repeat – more fog.  On Saturday evening we found a small church in town.  Turns out it was the Feast of Christ the King which was the patron of this particular church.  They had a potluck dinner after the service and invited us to stay. Nothing like the good home cooking of a church potluck dinner.  It wasn’t a big group, so everyone knew we were visitors – we had lots of people to talk with about our Great Loop Adventure!

On the 24th, we headed out early to get thru the Fulton lock.  There was still a bit of fog, but visibility wasn’t a problem – at first.  It was cold, and we were bundled up in fleece vests and coats, hats and gloves. Got to get SOUTH! The first lock was just a short distance, but as we traveled, the fog became a little more dense and we had to really look with the binoculars to see where to enter the lock. Got in safely – we were all by ourselves. After we were lowered 25 feet, the doors opened and we couldn’t see anything beyond the lock. The lock master radioed us and said he didn’t have any boats approaching, so it was OK to stay in the lock for awhile. We took him up on the offer and waited about 40 minutes until the fog lifted. The rest of the day was sunny and our enclosed helm was warmed like a solarium. Altogether there were four locks this day: Fulton, Wilkins, Armory and Aberdeen.  We ended the day at Columbus Marina.

On the 25th, the sun showed itself again.  We headed out early for the Stennis Lock.  These cold, early mornings are not feeling much like a pleasure cruise, but it’s our best chance to get thru a lock before a tow boat comes our way.  When we came out of the lock, there were huge blobs of foam in the water.  Looked like some heavy duty laundry had been done!  We had only one more lock this day, the Bevill. Traveled to an anchorage that afternoon at Sumpter Recreation Area.  We were able to dinghy to shore and walk thru the park area.  Nice to get off the boat and stretch our legs.

We were up early on the 26th.  On this morning we were treated to a beautiful sunrise!  We went thru the Heflin Lock and Dam and shortly afterwards we saw the White Cliffs of Epes.  These stretch for about one mile and are made from layers of the Selma Chalk Formation.  Next stop: Demopolis Marina. Interesting entry into the marina. This marina is a fuel stop for many of the tow boats on the river.  There are huge pillars along the fuel dock, and boats have to maneuver around them and make a 90 degree turn to get to the marina.  Always something new to experience on this trip!  We saw BackAtcha again at this marina – always nice to see a familiar face. We were coming up to Thanksgiving Day.  It was time for a little R&R for a couple of days.

November 14 – 19, 2019 The Tennessee River – Part 3

With new passengers aboard, we spent the evening of the 14th walking in Chattanooga and visiting the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel.  It was all decked out for Christmas with lots of lights.  Some of the “rooms” at the hotel are actually in some of the former rail cars.

Busy day on the 15th, we walked across the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge to  North Shore on the other side of the river. No longer viable as a traffic bridge, it was closed in 1978.  Lacking funds to demolish the bridge, it sat unused for several years. It was many years later that some community leaders saw it as an opportunity to make it a pedestrian bridge that could help revitalize the downtown area.  Money was raised for its renovation and today it sees much use by walkers and bikers.  It is the location of many festivities such as Wine over Water.  

Later in the afternoon we headed to the Tennessee Aquarium.  It has two buildings, one for freshwater marine life and another for saltwater marine life.  It’s the kind of place you could spend hours and hours.

On the 16th, we started our return trip on the Tennessee River.  Sharon and Rich got to experience a beautiful day on the water – even taking a turn at the wheel.  Rich took lots of pictures along the way.  We all watched him on the bow of the boat – mostly curious to see if his hat was going to stay on his head!  We bypassed the rather decrepit Hales Bar Marina and headed to Goose Pond Marina.  

The next day we were treated to more sunshine and headed into Ditto Landing Marina.  As promised, Jeremy had left the car there in the parking lot.  We needed to get some work out of these passengers, so it was time to wash down the boat.  We failed to get any pictures, but Rich did an outstanding job of helping Ed to scrub the deck of the boat.  Later, we did some walking around the marina area and were treated to a beautiful sunset.  We went into Huntsville that evening and had a wonderful Italian dinner at a restaurant the marina staff had recommended.  What a wonderful ending for our journey with Rich and Sharon.

Minus two passengers, we departed the next morning and went to Joe Wheeler State Park.  It was here that we had attended the AGLCA’s Fall Rendezvous last year and found out that our offer to buy the boat had been accepted.  It was much more quiet this year – no other boats there with us.  We did some hiking in the woods and on the golf course and then spent the evening doing the mundane task of laundry. The laundry room was a quite a distance, so we made use of the marina’s cart.

Back to Florence Marina on the 19th.  This time we made it early enough to go the short ride over to Muscle Shoals to tour the sound studio.  It’s just a small building – Nothing to indicate the impact it has made on the music world. Preparations were being made for a recording session that afternoon, so some of the back up musicians were already there.  The ceiling was draped with long strips of burlap – maybe that’s the special “sound” secret! We got a tour which included a lot of the history of the place and the session musicians called The Swampers – or more formally known as The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.  One of The Swampers was there that day – David Hood. If you’re interested in knowing more about this piece of music history, you might want to find a DVD called “Muscle Shoals,” or see if you can still catch it on Netflix.

This was the conclusion of our side trip on the Tennessee River.  Tomorrow we head back past Great Harbor Marina and onto the Tennessee-Tombigbee River.

November 9 – 14, 2020 The Tennessee River, Part 2

Time for a side trip. On the 9th, we went just a short distance back to the Tennessee River and started a trip to Chattanooga, TN.  Skies clear, sunshine, but only 38 degrees.  Brrrr.  First stop, Florence, AL.  One of our first “sites” along the way was the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge. The 450 mile Parkway is part of the National Parks.  The Natchez Trace was first an Indian trail, and later used by traders, missionaries and military personnel.  It runs from Natchez, MS in a northern direction to Nashville, TN.  We arrived in Florence Harbor Marina . This area is famous for Muscle Shoals, where there is a recording studio used by some big name entertainers.  Too late to take the tour, but our dockmaster had a DVD about it.  That was our entertainment for the evening after we had a wonderful Italian meal in town with Canadian Loopers on Sequel.

Next day (10th) there were two locks – the Wilson and the Wheeler.  No waiting time for either, as we were seeing very little additional traffic on this route.  We should note that the Wilson Dam raised us 93 feet.  It was once the world’s highest single lift lock, but has dropped to 6thin the US.  We traveled 8 ½ hours this day and arrived at Ditto Landing Marina near Huntsville, AL at 4 pm.  As we moved in to dock, we saw a familiar face from home.  Jeremy P had driven from Augusta to join us for a few days.  Yea – a visitor!

A bit of history at this marina.  On 1807, James Ditto started a ferry service at this location.  He ferried people, horses, and goods across the river. Over time, he ferried many people including American soldiers in the War of 1812 which became crucial for fighting back the British, and he ferried Gen Andrew Jackson and Davey Crockett during the Creek Indian War in 1813.  A replica of one of his boats was on display at the marina.

Set out the next day with a PASSENGER!  Early on we passed Painted Bluff, one of the highest bluffs on the river.  We showed Jeremy “the ropes” at the Guntersville Lock.  He was such a quick learner that he even got some drive time at the helm on his first day of the trip!

We docked for the night at Goose Pond Colony Marina – just outside of Scottsboro, AL.  We were expecting rain the next day, so we would be here a couple of days.  In case you didn’t know, Scottsboro is home to Unclaimed Baggage – the store where unclaimed luggage from airlines is taken.  Supposedly, the contents are sorted and sold.  Looked to us like there was also a lot of new merchandise there.  On the walls are hung some items belonging to famous people.  So my question – if the owners were known, why weren’t the items of famous people returned to them?!!  The rainy day offered a good time to do an oil change – yep, our guest got to help do that, too!

The weather was definitely cold, and when we were ready to leave on the 13th, we found that the rain had soaked the lines tied to the dock, and the cold temps had frozen them.  There was also ice in the dinghy.  Yikes.  We had to pour some warmer water on the lines to defrost them enough to untie them from the cleats.  What are we doing here in a boat?!!

The sun came out and made all of us feel a bit warmer.  Today we were going thru the Nickajack Lock and Dam.  We sent our guest out to tie to a bollard and man the line. Kathy was getting a “vacation” this week – giving all her duties to Jeremy!  We knew we were getting closer to Chattanooga when we started seeing the “See Rock City” red barns in the hillside.

We stopped that night at Hales Bar Marina – perhaps not the most glamorous stop we’ve ever made. There used to be a lock and dam here, as well as the Hales Bar hydroelectric plant.  But almost from the start, the dam leaked and repairs were costly and uncertain as to their effectiveness.  Eventually, the plant was closed and the dam destroyed.  It was replaced with the Nickajack Dam.  The remains of the power plant are still there.  The surrounding area is “junky” at best – and here we were! Oh, another note of interest. The directions to the marina include – “go behind the rock piles, mooring cells and barges…”  There were literally several rock piles in the water with caution flags atop them.   Mustn’t take a wrong turn!

On the 14th, we started on the final leg to Chattanooga.  Another beautiful day for a boat ride.  It was a very scenic ride and no locks.  Kathy sat back and did some knitting as the Captain and First Mate took turns driving and navigating.  Ahhhhh!  We arrived in Chattanooga and headed towards the docking area by the Aquarium in downtown.  Just like the cruise ships, we would be discharging a passenger and taking aboard new passengers.  More friends from Augusta – Rich and Sharon were waiting for us there.  The arrangement was that Jeremy would drive their car back to Ditto Landing where his car had been left, and they would ride with us.  The car would be waiting there when we arrived.  We all spent some time walking around the city and having lunch.  Great to have company with us to share this incredible journey.

November 4 – 8, 2019 The Tennessee River, Part 1

November 4 – 8, 2019       The Tennessee River, Part 1

We left Green Turtle Bay with beautiful skies, light winds and 50 degrees.  Great day for a boat ride!  Now we were on the Tennessee River.  Almost 5 hours later we arrived at Paris Landing State Park, after a bit of a navigation problem.  Electronic apps are great, except when they are not.  Even though we had programmed in our “draft” (the clearance we need for the boat UNDER the water line), the automatic program took us to shallow water to approach the marina.  Fortunately we were going slow and were able to back up and call for specific approach instructions.  We gave a warning to the other boats not to trust the route.  It was a nice marina and it had lots of places to walk and enjoy the beautiful day.  Saw lots of deer on the golf course.

The 5th was a LONG day – 91 miles.  Started early and watched the clouds disperse as the morning progressed. The sides of the river were so interesting to see.  One side would be a high hill, and directly across, the other side would be flat.  The stone walls of the river had horizontal striations that were beautiful.  We continued to meet and pass tows.  One captain was particularly helpful when he warned us of a big sandbar that extended farther than usual.  The green buoy was laying ON the sandbar!  Nice to be forewarned.  After nine hours we arrived at Clifton Marina.  It was a small marina tucked into a hillside.  The new owners were eager to please, and they had a small eating area and store next to the docks. From inside during happy hour, we could look directly at our boat outside the window!

The next morning we woke up to fog, which was so pretty, but not good traveling conditions.  We waited a short while and were able to leave a little after 8 AM.  We were traveling with Here’s to Us and Just Us. Saw some beautiful scenery and more hints of fall color.  The colors aren’t extraordinary this year; just have to find those pockets where the leaves have turned before falling off.  Turned out to be a lucky day at the lock.  Went thru Pickwick Lock – NO wait time —  and just a few miles south of that, we were on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.  This waterway was cut by the Corps of Engineers to link the Tennessee River with Mobile Bay.  It is still a highly commercialized waterway, but not so much as the Mississippi River.   This is the main reason that most recreational boats use this waterway to reach the Gulf area.

We pulled into the Grand Harbor Marina, a pretty large marina with 300 berths.  We somehow rated a covered slip – sweet!  We checked in and were told that there was a boaters’ lounge on the first floor of the adjacent condo building.  We walked there and what did we find beside the lounge?  The Vitamin Sea Medical Clinic!  What a clever name! Turned out to be a good thing to find as Ed was having some bronchitis problems.

Visited with several other Loopers here.  Had docktails in the lounge on the 7thand met some new people.  The more the merrier.

Shiloh Military National Park was nearby, and we used the courtesy car to go see it.  We were shocked to see the condition.  In late October, a tornado had gone thru the area and there were SO many trees down.  The park had been closed for a short time.  We were told that a Parks crew came in for 2 days and was able to clear all of the Park roads.  That was some fast work.

As we have come to expect from National Parks, there was a great film and excellent exhibits at the Visitor’s Center.  This area, including Corinth, MS, was critical in the Civil War because there was a crossing of two vital rail lines at this point:  The north-south Mobile & Ohio Railroad and the east-west Memphis and Charleston Railroad.  These lines were critical for both armies to transport needed goods, and both the Union and Confederate armies wanted control. The east-west line was a lifeline for the Confederates, and the Union army knew if they could capture control, that the Confederates would be severely crippled.  There were actually three encounters – The Battle of Shiloh, the Siege of Corinth, and the Battle of Corinth.  The Union troops were ultimately successful, but the casualties were greater than 33,000 – almost evenly divided between the two sides.   More casualties would result AFTER the battles, as the burial of so many soldiers resulted in contamination of the waters in the area that the Union troops occupied.

After the Visitor’s Center, we toured the battlefield by car and a phone app that gave us info at various designated stopping points.  Being ON the battlefield always gives a very different perspective of what the troops were facing as compared to a map of the field.  After leaving this area, we continued to Corinth to visit the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, another great resource of information regarding the battles in that area.

Oct 28 – Nov 3, 2019 Green Turtle Bay and Nashville

Planned to stay in Paducah, KY, another day, and we were enjoying a leisurely breakfast in our PJ’s and smiling at the morning sunshine.  At 9:15 there was a knock, knock, knock on our boat.  Robin (Curti-Sea) told us that another boat had called the Kentucky Lock Master and he could get us thru in daylight hours.  The other boats were leaving.  “When?” I asked.  Her reply – “9:45.”  Yikes!!  We didn’t want to pass up this opportunity to be sure we’d get through during daylight hours.  Some groups of boats ahead of us had long waits and ended up traveling in the dark.  I don’t think we had ever dressed, pulled in electric and water lines and prepared for shove off in so short a time.  We were the 2nd to last to leave the dock – the flotilla continued!

According to GPS, at the speed we were all traveling, we would arrive at the lock at 12:35. At 11:20, the leader boat radioed all of us and said the lockmaster had called and if we could get there by noon, he could put us immediately into the lock.  Fortunately we were all “go fast” boats and we punched up the speed. We arrived at noon – and had to wait.  About 12:40, we got the call to enter.  Gee, we could have saved some fuel if there hadn’t been a rush to get there at noon.  Oh well, no need to complain because we DID get thru in daylight and reached Green Turtle Bay (GTB) marina in early afternoon.

GTB is a resort marina and was very nice – probably nicer when the weather is warmer.  We were still bundled in coats, but we were enjoying the warm friendships of fellow Loopers.  Everyone was staying here a few days for various reasons.  Some of us ladies took advantage of the Spa and went for some pampering.  That massage felt SO good.  We contemplated taking the boat up the Cumberland River to Nashville.  Then rain came. Our thoughts – take 2 days to travel in the cold and rain, or rent a car and travel two hours to get to Nashville? That was a no brainer. Rented a car and headed to Country Music City.  

Just outside of Nashville, we saw signs for The Hermitage – home of President Andrew Jackson – the People’s President.  Let’s go. Note about the home – it was added on to several times. The last changes to make it look more “presidential.”

From there we headed to the Opryland Hotel. The hotel is huge, and has some beautiful atrium areas with lush growing plants.  The staff was already putting out Christmas decorations – my favorite! A staff member approached us when we came in – she greeted us and offered a map (which we needed). She showed us where several restaurants were located and said that they validated parking for any of their customers.  What?? Didn’t know there was a charge for parking.  Turns out that it’s $34 to park – CRAZY.  So, we stayed for lunch, which was a little more than $34, but at least we got something to eat with that pricey parking spot. Also saw an extensive mural collection that was in the lobby area of the convention rooms. Such a beautiful way to see history portrayed.

Next on the agenda – find a place to stay.  I discovered it costs more to stay in Nashville than in the heart of Chicago! Found a place on-line: The Club, not a recognized name, so we drove there first to check it out. Looked great.  They wouldn’t match the price, but told us to go ahead and book it on line.  ??? Nice place and they had Happy Hour – for which they gave us 4 tickets for free drinks – the food at Happy Hour was plenty for our dinner – What a Deal! They also had a shuttle that would take us into downtown, so we didn’t even have to deal with traffic and parking. 

Nashville was fun. Went to the Ryman Auditorium for a tour – so much history.  It was originally started as a church (Union Gospel Tabernacle) by a riverboat captain – Thomas Ryman – who had been converted and wanted a place for people to attend big time Revivals.  He spearheaded the fundraising and construction.  Turned out to be wildly successful.  At his death, his memorial service was held there and shortly thereafter, the building was renamed Ryman Auditorium.  Not being able to be supported by religious events alone, it was rented out for other events and attractions.  Lula C. Naff was responsible for the bookings and was quite successful, eventually becoming the official manager in 1920 – quite an accomplishment for a woman in those days.  She worked at the Ryman for over 50 years!

The Grand Ole Opry moved its show and broadcast (radio and then TV) to the Ryman in 1943 and remained there for 31 years.  It became known as the “Mother Church of Country Music.” Thru many years, the Grand Ole Opry show has come and gone, and come again.  The auditorium has undergone name changes and renovations, and at one time was scheduled to be torn down.  She still survives today, a vital part of downtown Nashville.

Had lunch at a renovated Woolworth store.  Prices were not of the five and dime era!

In the afternoon we headed to the County Music Hall of Fame.  Not being big country music fans, it amazed us how interested we became in all the exhibits.  At the end of the day, we wished we had more time to linger and listen.

In the evening, we went back to town to check out the nightlife.  The city was hopping and there was LOTS of drinking going on. There were several modes of “traveling parties” including tractor pulls, pedal bars and buses.  Music everywhere.  

The next day we went to The Parthenon in Centennial Park.  This is a full scale replica of the building in Greece.  It houses Nashville’s art gallery, which was closed that day for a special event, but it was fun just to see the outer building.  On the grounds is a statue in honor of the suffragists who often marched from this park to the Capitol Building for women’s right to vote. The Tennessee Legislature did ratify the Susan B Anthony Amendment and the State became known as the “Perfect 36,” as it was the 36th state needed to complete ratification by three-quarters of the then 48 states.

After the Park, we went to the Farmer’s Market – great place to pick up a few items and have lunch – and enjoy some musical entertainment. Across the parking lot from the market, we saw the Tennessee State Museum and spent some time there.  So much to do, so little time. 

October 24 – 27, 2019 That Water is Moving Now!

We left Alton on a cold and cloudy morning.  Along with Alcyone, and Curti-Sea, we went and circled around in front of The Arch to get pictures.  Too bad it wasn’t a prettier day.  The current of the Mississippi moved us right along, giving us about a 3 mph push – a little relief for the fuel bills!  But the morning was cold – starting out at about 38 degrees! Gee, just yesterday it was about 70.  

There was lots of commercial traffic moving in both directions and that gave us a rocky ride – lots of wakes hitting us.  About 11 am, a light rain started.  Hate riding in the rain because the only way to get a clear view is for one of us to poke our hand out of the zippered windows and clear the plastic with a squeegee.  Fortunately, it wasn’t a hard rain, so we continued to our destination – the Kaskaskia Lock Wall.  This lock is off to the east side of the Mississippi and leads to the Kaskaskia River.  It doesn’t have a high volume of traffic, and boats are allowed to tie overnight to an approach wall. Ten of us pulled in there – ahh, another free night!  We were able to get off the boat and just walk on the wall – really no where to go, but it always feels good to stretch the legs.

Next day everyone headed out – we were going to some different anchorages as most anchorage locations have space for just a few boats.  Together with Alcyone and Curti-Sea, we headed to our intended location.  Again, lots of commercial traffic on the river.  Approached a BIG, BIG tow – 5 barges across and 6 barges long! Glad we met up in a wide part of the river.

We had noticed that there were several missing navigational aids on the river – probably due to the high water level, strong current, and the fact that we saw some tows ride OVER those steel green and red markers.  I think we found them when we turned around one of the bends!

We reached Boston Bar, an anchorage behind an island on the east side of the river, near a bridge and also near where we would be turning onto the Ohio River.  We had to go past the island and then make a U turn to get into our intended area.  Not so easy a task when you have a fast current on the river, but we made it. About a hundred yards ahead of us, we saw a sailboat that was already anchored.  Ted, on Curti-Sea, had been cooking chili during the day for us all to enjoy, so our three boats decided to raft together in order to board their boat.  In the current, the dinghy wasn’t a good option. Ted anchored first, getting a good hold in the muddy bottom.  We came along side and dropped our anchor, also getting a good hold. With the two larger boats securely anchored and tied together, we told Alcyone that they didn’t need to set their anchor, just drop it to give added weight.

We had a great dinner and watched one of the World Series Games.  While we were sitting there, Robin showed me how they used one of their Navigation Apps to check on the stability of the anchor – making sure we weren’t dragging anchors and moving.  The anchors had a solid hold the whole time we were enjoying the evening.  By the time we were ready to head back to our boat, a rain had started.  We all agreed to keep our radios “on” overnight as a precaution.

At 3 AM, a voice came over the radio – “Ed, get up.  The anchors are dragging.”  Pitch dark, raining like crazy, and we’re up top putting on our foul weather gear.  We had to untie the boats from each other; then we agreed to anchor separately.  Alcyone moved first – moving up closer towards the sailboat.  Using a spot light and flashlight, they moved as best as they could to find a secure spot to anchor.  Once they were set, we moved up, found a spot and dropped the anchor.  Prayers were answered when the anchor took hold on the first try.   Then Curti-Sea reset their anchor.  After all this, we tried to go back to sleep. We were now using our Nav app to check for any movement.  Ed probably woke up every 30 minutes to check it.

Daylight came and everyone was still in place.  Forecast was for rain on and off all day.  Alcyone decided they wanted to move on, as Patty was soon going home for a visit, and needed to get close to Nashville.  Curti-Sea and we decided to stay put for the day.  About mid-morning we looked out at the sailboat in front of us.  We saw a man stabbing a pole in and out of the water behind the boat.  Then we saw him climb out of the boat and seemed to be standing on something. WHAT was he doing?  We finally figured that there was a log caught on his anchor line.  We looked at Ted, but there wasn’t anything we could do.  Our electric motor on the dinghy wasn’t going to carry us against the strong current to go help the guy.  All we could do is watch.  He was soon successful at dislodging the log, and then we gazed at it floating towards us!  It was 45-50 ft in length and we watched as it picked up speed.  By a stroke of luck, the log turned and went BETWEEN our boats!  Whew!  We didn’t know the sailboat captain’s name, but we started calling him Woody!

The anchors held for the whole day and thru the night.  We woke up to sunny skies.  We headed back into the Mississippi for about .7 miles and then made a left turn onto the Ohio River.  It was like hitting the brakes!  The current was now AGAINST us.  There went the better fuel mileage.

We went 31 miles and two locks to Paducah, KY.   The city dock was new – the old one had been destroyed in a flood. This was a floating dock. While talking with the dock master, he told us that the dock could float all the way to the top of the VERY high pilings.  Then he pointed out a water line on the rocks on the hillside of the shore.  Hard to believe how high these waters could get!

There was a Halloween 5K Run going on in town – got to see lots of costumed runners.  Paducah is known for murals that have been painted on the flood walls.  They are an extraordinary depiction of the history of the city.  The more than 50 murals are painted by Robert Dafford and the Dafford Murals Team.

In the evening, the Loopers headed out to dinner at Shanties for some fun and fellowship – best way to end the day!

October 20 – 23, 2019 To the End of The Illinois and Beyond

On Sunday, we started on our last stretch of the Illinois River.  At Mile Marker 80, we passed BY the LaGrange Lock and Wicket Dam.  This was different from other locks we had ENTERED.  A Wicket dam is best explained as a wall that can fall back or be raised to control water flow.  Picture a door – laying on its long side — that can lay flat or be raised on the long side to resemble a wall.  At normal river levels, the wall is in the UP position and boats enter the lock next to it to be raised or lowered to the water level on the other side of the lock.  This is usually not a large difference – just a few feet.  When the river level is higher than usual, and higher than the top of the wall, then the wall is lowered DOWN flat and boat traffic rides over it, bypassing the lock.  The river levels have been high along our whole trip.  We actually traveled over several wicket dams along the way.

At 9:56 AM we passed under the Norfolk & Western Railroad Bridge.  This is the most western point of the Great Loop – another milestone! 

At mile 0.7 on the Illinois River, we got to Grafton Marina.  A few of the Two-pers were staying here and some went farther to another marina.   There seemed to be a party going on in the marina and a nearby bar – sunshine, music and beer! We got our slip assignment, and as we backed in to the slip, we got applause from people on the boat in the next slip.  Always makes us feel good when we can make it look easy!

We headed to the outdoor bar to check out the party.  It was warm, people were all over the outside area, and there was a band playing.  I don’t think we had heard beach music since we left the Carolinas.  They actually played a few beach songs and Ed and I just HAD to dance.  Then they started playing some other stuff that was just LOUD.  Time to move on.  Walked up and down the main street to see all the charming shops, restaurants and beer pubs.  Helped a lady put some things in her car – Ed (surprise, surprise) started up a conversation with her and turns out she’s the wife of the chief of police. She told him if he got into any trouble just mention her name.  Huh – don’t know if that would help or hurt!

The next day we rented a car and Patty and Todd (Alcyone) went with us to St. Charles, a small town west of St Louis.  It had such an ol’ timey charm with cobblestone streets, gaslights, and pretty storefronts that were all decorated for Halloween.  This was the home of Daniel Boone, the origin of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and Missouri’s first State Capitol.  We went to the Lewis and Clark Boat House and Museum and had an in-depth history lesson on the Expedition.  There were replicas of the boats used on the trip.  Something that never occurred to me was that the boats had to go UP river for a long distance.  They didn’t have motors, so people had to walk IN the river in order to PULL the boats.  It probably took them a week or more to go the distance we go in a day!  Spent the day there, had dinner and drove back.  The drive wouldn’t have been so long if one of the ferries had been in operation.  The high rivers were preventing the ferry from operating. We could have taken it RIGHT INTO Grafton.

The next day we went to see the St. Louis Arch (real name The Gateway Arch).  Again, we had an in-depth lesson on the Arch, which was built as a monument to the individuals who enabled the westward expansion of the US.  It was the first National Historic Site and it was to be managed by the National Park Service. A film, with actual footage of the construction, showed that it was a difficult construction project, as the individual “blocks” of the arch had to be fitted to put pressure upon one another in order to hold up the structure.  The last block was the top center one.  People from all over the city came out to view the placement of this last block.  Would it fit? It did, and the outer construction was completed.  INSIDE the Arch, a tram car system was constructed to take visitors to the top of the Arch, which is just what we did.  At the top are windows to look out all over the city.  The floor is actually curved, just as it would appear to be from the outside.

As we left the grounds of The Arch, we stopped at the Basilica of St. Louis, King, often called “The Old Cathedral,” one of the oldest remaining buildings in St. Louis. It is the fourth Catholic Church to be built at that site.  The first church was built in 1764.  This church was dedicated in 1834.  It is a beautiful church that was almost lost when the plan for The Arch was created.  Almost 40 blocks of St. Louis, much in decay, were torn down to make way for the creation of The Arch. The mayor, who presented the plan, had been married in this very church.  Perhaps that played a part in its survival.  Can you hear his wife saying, “You’re going to tear down WHAT?”

After the Arch, we went to the Old St. Louis County Courthouse.  It also survived the construction of the Arch and is also a beautiful building.  It is always interesting to see the detail in the grandeur of old buildings.  That kind of craftsmanship isn’t much evident in modern structures.  There were two cases of historical note that were heard in this courthouse. The first was in 1846 when Dred Scott sued the State for his freedom and that of his wife.  The Missouri Supreme Court eventually upheld the lower court decision, and the US Supreme Court also upheld the decision that the Scotts and all African Americans were not citizens, and therefore had no rights to sue.  The plaque on their statue reads that this was a “defining moment in the history of the Civil Rights Movement.”

The second case of note was that of Virginia Minor.  In 1872, she attempted to vote in a local election and was denied. This case also went to the US Supreme Court and the male-only eligible to vote law was upheld.

On the 23rd, we moved the boat down to the end of the Illinois River and made a turn onto the Mississippi River.  This river had more current to it, and we would benefit from it for a few days. On this day, we only moved a short distance to Alton, about 16 miles away.  This actually got us a little closer to St. Louis, and that afternoon we had to go make one more visit to the city – to see the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which is the world headquarters for the company. Again, the architecture of the buildings there is amazing to see and we very much enjoyed a tour – with free samples!  As they say in St. Louis – “This Bud’s for You!”

October Supplement AIS – NOW We See You and You See Us

AIS is an Automatic Identification System used in the marine environment, similar to the transponder system used in aviation.  We Loopers share the waterways with many other boaters, some are pleasure boaters, but along the major rivers, we share these waterways with commercial traffic.  This commercial traffic can be barges coupled with tugboats that can be over 1000 feet long. 

Since leaving Beaufort, South Carolina, we only had to deal with commercial traffic consisting of a few container ships in the upper Chesapeake Bay, and ferries and high-speed water taxis on the Hudson River near Manhattan.   We knew that heading south from Chicago we would be on some of the most commercially trafficked waterways in the country.  The safest way to travel would be to know where this commercial traffic is and how to safely pass them – and for them to see us approaching. Ed installed AIS on the boat while we were in Hammond, IN, waiting for the locks to reopen.

On Vitamin Sea, we view the AIS transceiver information on two iPads.  On one iPad, we have the AIS output show on a screen as boat name, position, and movement information such as course, speed, and heading. It’s presented in a “target” type screen which can be adjusted to look from 1 miles to 28 miles away from us.  Tapping on the icon for the boat will give us even more information.  This program will warn us by both color and audible alarm if another boat will be coming close to our intended path.

A second iPad, using the Navionics app, shows our navigation track with a ghost image (in green) of boats with AIS.  On the picture below, we all seem to be riding on top of one another, but that didn’t happen. The AIS transponder sends out a signal about every 10 seconds, so the boats are sending out signals at different times. It appears we are on top of each other because the signals haven’t caught up to real time.

A group of up to thirty barges and the boat that pushes them is referred to as a “tow.”  The tow, weighing thousands of tons, cannot stop or alter direction easily.  They are usually traveling at 4-6 mph, which is why we want to pass. We’re typically traveling at 10-12 mph. To overtake or pass a tow we call them by name, requesting information on which side and where to pass them.  We follow their directions to safely pass, sometimes being asked to wait for a better place or a straighter part of the river in order to safely pass.

While we were traveling with the Two-pers, usually the lead boat would contact a tow and inform them about our position and how many boats were approaching. On October 18, we made OUR first call to a tow captain – the tow boat was the Bernard G. We were a little nervous – tow captains seem to have their own lingo and their accents (Southern?) are sometimes difficult to understand over the radio. All went well – they really are SO helpful. They don’t want any accidents either, so they want the other boats to move by them as safely as possible. We have made an unofficial observation – we think they prefer to talk with “lady captains” more than just another “feller!”

Oct 15 – 19, 2019 Moving on the Illinois River

The Brandon Road Lock and Dam – was just a short distance (2 miles) from the Joliet Wall, but a call ahead told us not to hurry.  So we left about 9 AM.  It was a beautiful day for a boat ride!

We arrived at the lock, but there was a VERY large tow in the lock – or at least part of it was. A barge is an individual container that is pushed or pulled by a tugboat.  For river transport, several barges are connected together and then called “the tow.”  Some of these tows are so large that they don’t fit in the locks.  When that happens, some of the units need to be disconnected and the tugboat must push the first section thru the lock, and then secure it on the other side of the lock.  Then the tugboat must go back thru the lock and get the remaining section(s), and bring them thru the lock.  Once all the barges are thru the lock, they must be reconnected and then the tugboat can continue the journey.   In this case, we were waiting quite some time for all of this to happen.  Meanwhile, there wasn’t much to do but try to hold position in the large area outside of the lock.  I say “try to hold” because it’s hard to hold a boat in position in moving water.  

Got finally got thru the first lock at 1:00 and then headed towards the next lock – Dresden Island Lock and Dam – about 15 miles down the river.  It was after noon when we got out of the first lock.  15 miles was about an hour and a half trip.  At this time of the year, we were very conscious of the sundown time, which got earlier each day.  Today it would be about 6 PM.  When we got to the next lock, we found we were going to have a long wait.  

We finally got thru, but we had another 20 miles to go to get to Springbrook – our planned marina stop.  Not many marinas along this stretch, so we needed to get there.  The marina was called to inform them that we would be getting in after their 5 PM closing time. 

As we saw the sun setting, we knew that we weren’t going to be docking in daylight. Additionally, the winds started increasing – double whammy!  When we finally arrived, the first boat found that the entrance was shallow and boats would have to proceed carefully.  We decided to let each boat get in a slip before the next boat entered.  There wasn’t a lot of maneuvering room.  In just a few minutes, there was total darkness.

We didn’t know it right away, but there were a couple of dock people who had stayed late to help get us all in.  That helped, but we all struggled to get docked.  Some of us were using flashlights to direct people to open spots.  Others were on the radios helping to give direction.  At some point there was probably TOO much info being given to incoming boats. Oh well, eventually everyone made it.  Hooking to electricity on the dock provided some additional problems, but at last we were all in and the juice was flowing.  Every single one of us was exhausted from a long day and a stressful evening. 

Winds were high the next day, so we had a “day off” to recuperate from the last evening’s docking challenges.  We piddled with boat chores, took a walk, then found out there was a large room at the marina where we could gather for a pizza dinner.  Had a fun evening of food and games.

We headed out again on a beautiful Thursday morning.  Our next lock was the Marseilles Lock and Dam.  We were going to have another wait here.  This time we asked the lockmaster if we could tie to a cell to wait.  A “mooring cell” is a large, round steel cylinder, that is usually filled with rocks.  The barges often tie to the cells to get aligned before entering the locks.  We got the go ahead, so one boat approached and got tied.  It’s tricky because you have to tie a straight side of a boat to a metal ring that is attached to a round structure that is about 25 feet in diameter.  SO, when one boat finally got tied and secured, several others rafted to that boat rather than trying to tie another boat. It was a long wait – 4 hours.

The day proceded well – no problems on the water.  We continued to pass tows of various sizes.  It wasn’t so scary anymore.  We got thru the second lock of the day — Starved Rock Lock and Dam.  Then we traveled for about another 25 miles.  At this point, people were making different plans.  Some were going to a small marina, some anchoring. Three of us (Alcyone, Curti-Sea, Vitamin Sea) decided to tie to the Hennepin Island Wall (hey, it was free), adjacent to a very small town – maybe “town” is exaggerating.  As we approached the “wall,” we had second thoughts of what we were doing.  We saw before us a concrete wall with a roadside guardrail at the top of it.  Definitely a “no frills” stop for the night.   It was no easy feat to tie to the guardrail.  Robin on Curti-Sea took a hard hit to her rib cage when their boat rocked as she reached across the boat railing to get a line around the guardrail.  She later found out she had cracked a couple of ribs. 

A golf cart approached us – we wondered if this was the Welcoming Committee or someone telling us to move on!  Turned out to just be a “local” come down to talk.  He mentioned that there was a restaurant at the top of the hill that had a great Prime Rib Special.  After traveling – and waiting – for a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes, that sounded SO good!  We headed to the top of the hill and found the restaurant (wasn’t hard) and walked in.  The bartender gave us the bad news that there was a wedding rehearsal dinner party that night and the restaurant was closed to other customers, but the bar was open. No other restaurants in walking distance.  Nothing to do but have a drink!  We had some interesting conversations with some of the locals – many of who had not heard of The Great Loop.  

So what about dinner? We had some BBQ on our boat, so we invited the others over and had beer and BBQ.  Not Prime Rib, but the company was outstanding!

The next day we continued on the Illinois River another 40 miles – no locks on this day.  The Two-pers regrouped at the Illinois Valley Yacht Club (IVY– to those in the know).  The club was very welcoming and had a great price on fuel, but a tight space to get to the fuel dock.  Our dock slip had us positioned to get fuel first thing in the morning, but boats that were on the outer slips had to wait quite awhile before they could get in to get fuel after us.

The delay in the locks re-opening had caused me one great regret.  My high school was having a 45thyear reunion this weekend.  I had originally planned to fly out of St. Louis, but that was not meant to be.  I’m sorry that I was not able to attend.  For those of you from my class that might be reading this, I hope that there will be a 50th– better attended — reunion.

On the 19th, we went thru the Peoria Lock and Dam and then had our most unusual nighttime tie up.   Flooding had destroyed some of the marinas on this stretch of the river, but there was a creative alternative.  Logsdon Tug Service had positioned a couple of barges along the shore for boats to tie to overnight.  Now, these are working barges, with all kinds of equipment on them.  Somehow, we didn’t think this was OSHA approved, but we were all accommodated by rafting together. That means the people on the rafted boats had to walk across the inner boats if they wanted to get off.  Good thing we’re all so friendly.

October 14, 2019 The River Armada

Loopers leaving Chicago have a choice of two routes.  The first is to go thru downtown Chicago on the Chicago River and then meet up with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  There is a fixed bridge of 17’ on this route.  If your boat can’t get under it, you must go to the alternate route of taking the Calumet River to the Cal-Sag Channel (Calumet-Saganashkee) and then meet up with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Eight of the 10 Two-per boats were taking the alternate route.  The other two boats went thru Chicago and joined the group when we got into the Ship Canal.  We left early morning and it looked like a floating armada as we left Hammond Marina.  

Our route took us thru a commercial area.  There were parked barges and boats on either side of the waterway we were traveling.  This presented a rather interesting ride – something like a flume ride at an amusement park. As the first boat went thru, their wake didn’t have to travel far before it hit the parked barges on either side of us. That wake hit the boats and bounced back, hitting the second boat.  This multiplied as each boat’s wake bounced back.  This stretch of waterway is commonly referred to a “12 Miles of Hell.” We were boat four, and we bounced around like a toy boat in a choppy bathtub.  We were just glad not to be boat number ten!

Much of the scenery on the early part of this trip is very industrial, but even some of the “industrial” aspects were “pretty” to see.  There are some water run off units that looked like waterfalls. 

At mile 297, there are warning signs for an Electric Fish Barrier.   Designed to keep the Asian Carp from getting into the Great Lakes, this electrified barrier is approximately 1 mile in length. Fish entering the barrier are exposed to an electric shock, which keeps them from swimming thru.  Boats have to be careful going thru this area as the electric “shock” can also fry boat electronics.  We turned off all the electrical equipment that we possibly could and still keep the boat running.  Then we held our breath and kept our fingers crossed. Whew – made it thru without incident! 

On the other side of the barrier, we started looking for the Carp.  From what we had been told, the fish are frightened by boats and they jump high out of the  water, sometimes jumping into boats.  Ed, joking, told our fellow boaters that he had the grill lid off and the grill hot – hoping that those fish would jump right onto the grill! Well, guess it was too cold for the fish to be out.  Other than a few splashes on the surface of the water, we didn’t see much! 

We continued our ride towards the first lock – Lockport Lock and Dam. We arrived a little after noon, but had to wait for the two boats that had come thru Chicago.  The Lock Master wouldn’t let anyone in until all boats were in sight.  It didn’t take long.  This was our first river lock.  It was BIG.  The inside of it is 110 feet wide by 600 feet long.  There weren’t enough bollards (what boats tie to) for each of us, so we had to raft boats together. After we were all tied, only the people on the boats against the wall had any work to do.  Everyone else got to walk around their boats and enjoy the ride!

Shortly after exiting the lock, we encountered our first moving barge.  Over the radio, we heard our “leader” radio the barge captain. He told the captain that there were ten boats approaching.  The captain told him that we should pass on his One.  River captains use the “lingo” of passing on the One or the Two.  Picture a clock. The 1 is on the right side of the center 12.  The 11 – or what looks like a Roman Numeral 2 – is on the left side of the center 12.  So, when a captain says pass on the 1, we pass on the right.  If the captain says pass on the 2, we pass on the left.  This dates back to the river boat days when the only communication was by whistle.  They used one whistle or two whistles.  During the days when we were at AGLCA meetings and people were talking about passing barges, some that were over 1000 feet long – I thought to myself….we will NEVER pass anything that big.  Well, here we were.  Perhaps it was best that we were with the group.  We just followed the boats ahead of us and before we knew it, we were past that big barge!

We continued that day to Joliet, IL.  That wonderful city had a free wall, WITH electricity where we were all able to find a spot to spend the night.  A few of us walked across the bridge to explore town.  Later in the evening we gathered in an adjacent park to enjoy cocktails and recount the experience of the day.  Day One on the River for the Two-pers:  A Success!